The first court-appointed special advocates--everyone calls them CASAs--were recruited in Seattle in the 1970s. "A judge realized there was a need for ... someone who really paid attention to what was going on with an individual child," Tesoriero says. "Workers are overloaded, lawyers are overloaded. Everybody has dozens of kids on their caseload. So he came up with this idea of citizen volunteers who just had one case, or one sibling group, who really got to know the child and know the needs of the child."
Though there were CASAs here earlier, the program really took off locally in the 2000s. CASA supervisor Gini Harmon says that 70 percent of the time, parents who lose custody have themselves had traumatic childhoods. Part of the goal is to break that cycle by giving kids a nurturer, role model, and steady presence.
Tesoriero calls the program "volunteering on steroids." After a two-hour interview and screening, each volunteer completes a forty-hour pre-service training program before being sworn in as an officer of the court. The CASAs then have access to the child's records, are able to interview people involved with the child, and are required to present a written formal recommendation to the presiding magistrate--usually court referee Molly Schikora. "The most important sentences we write are recommendations for what that child needs," says Tesoriero.
To see the process at work, go a few doors down the hall to Schikora's courtroom. She appoints the CASAs and hears all of these kids' cases. For some, she's the closest thing they have to a mother.